Children as young as three 'fed daily diet of junk foods'
IRISH children are eating huge amounts of junk food as part of their daily diet even at the age of three.
Biscuits, chocolate, crisps, sweets, chips and fizzy drinks are being guzzled on a daily basis by pre-school children.
This is fuelling a situation in which a quarter of Irish children are overweight or obese long before they even start school.
And while toddlers from poorer homes eat an even worse diet than their more privileged peers, the 'Growing Up in Ireland' survey reveals that junk food is a central part of most Irish children's daily diet.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the study showed that obesity was a major problem across all of society.
"We have an obesity epidemic amongst our three-year-olds and it's extremely urgent that we tackle that," she said.
The study examined what 10,000 three-year-olds had eaten in the previous 24 hours to give a snapshot of how our children are eating. It found that three-quarters had eaten biscuits or chocolate, half had eaten crisps and sweets, 36pc had had hamburgers or hotdogs and 28pc had eaten chips.
It also showed that 30pc of tots had drunk fizzy drinks or cordials and another 27pc had consumed the diet version of such drinks in the past 24 hours.
On the plus side, however, 89pc had eaten fresh fruit, 85pc had eaten vegetables and a quarter had had salad.
Report co-author Cathal McCrory said the snapshot of what children ate was representative of a typical daily diet, rather than of children being given occasional 'treats'. "These consumption patterns would be indicative of the types of food children aged three years of age are eating in Ireland. Interviews took place every day of the week, so it's not just that they were eating these things at weekends," he said.
The study shows that children from disadvantaged homes had a worse diet, with nearly twice as many eating burgers and crisps as children in well-off families.
However, social class was no guarantee of a healthy diet as children from privileged homes were even more likely to have eaten biscuits and chocolate.
This has all contributed to 6pc of children being obese by the age of three and 19pc being overweight.
And even though obesity was more prevalent amongst disadvantaged children, the figures show that it is a significant problem for all social classes.
Parenting supports, nutritional advice, active lifestyles and education at schools were all needed to address the problem, Ms Fitzgerald said.
The 'Growing Up in Ireland' study, tracking thousands of children, is being extended to 2019 to provide valuable information on their health and well-being and evidence of what works to improve it.
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